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Mayor of Trenton pleads not guilty to corruption

By Dave Warner

TRENTON, New Jersey (Reuters) - The mayor of Trenton, New Jersey's capital city, and two associates pleaded not guilty on Wednesday in a corruption case prosecutors say is laced with esoteric aliases, clandestine meetings and payments code-named Uncle Remus.

Trenton Mayor Tony Mack, who still holds office, his brother Ralphiel Mack and a restaurant owner named Joseph Giorgianni appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp to enter their pleas.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Moran read out maximum penalties that could amount to 110 years in prison for Mayor Mack, 46, and his brother Ralphiel, 40, and 130 years for Giorgianni, who is 63 and appeared in court in a wheelchair.

Shipp set a trial date of February 19, though Mayor Mack's lawyer, Mark G. Davis, told reporters outside the courtroom he would probably ask for a postponement.

"I have not seen any evidence," Davis said. "Everyone is going to need more time, not just myself."

The lawyer ruled out any suggestion of a plea deal for Mayor Mack, and said the mayor had no plans to step down despite a call to do so by Gov. Chris Christie.

"He is going to keep his job until state law says otherwise," Davis said.

The three are charged in an eight-count federal indictment in what prosecutors say was a 2010 scheme to accept $119,000 in bribes so that Mayor Mack would help in the development of an automated parking garage on city-owned land. They were out on bail.

About $54,000 was actually paid, the indictment against the three said, with the rest to be paid later.

None of the defendants, all in business suits, spoke in court Wednesday, except to confirm arrangements for lawyers to represent them.

According to the indictment, a scheme was hatched to keep Mayor Mack from being caught. Money was channeled through Giorgianni and Ralphiel Mack, the indictment charged.

"They often used coded and cryptic language, including using the term 'Uncle Remus' to refer to the corrupt payments," the indictment charged.

Part of the effort to hide the scheme involved Giorgianni using the name "Mr. Baker" when sending text messages about the payments, prosecutors said.

Mayor Mack, not a tall man, was referred to as "the little guy" and "Napoleon." Giorgianni was also known as JoJo, which is the name of his Trenton steakhouse, and "the Fat Man," according to the indictment.

Prosecutors accuse the three of trying to conceal their activities by avoiding meetings in City Hall, which is near the federal courthouse, and instead gather at Giorgianni's residence, his steakhouse and restaurants in Atlantic City. (Editing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by M.D. Golan)

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